Royals’ Matthews on pace of play: Keep hitter in batter’s box, call a strike a strike

Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Denny Matthews believes MLB's slow pace of play would pick up if umpires simply got back to calling a strike a strike. 

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is perhaps no bigger advocate of improving the pace of play in baseball than Royals radio broadcaster Denny Matthews.

Matthews, a Hall of Fame announcer, has harped for years about the issue of slow play.

But even as baseball ponders the idea of a pitch clock — one will be implemented in the minor leagues this season — Matthews doesn’t think that alone, if it were to happen, would solve the problem.

"Actually, you could solve everything without a pitch clock," Matthews told FOXSportsKansasCitiy.com. "You do two things: Keep the batter in the batter’s box and call a strike a strike. That’s it. Problem solved."

Matthews doesn’t believe pitchers are necessarily at fault for the slow pace of play in baseball. He believes there has been a series of events over the decades that all have conspired to create longer games.

"Mainly, it’s about offense," he said. "People in baseball are scared to death of a 2-1 baseball game. People think those games would be boring."

When Matthews began announcing Royals games on radio in the 1970s, low-scoring games were the norm, as were games under two hours and thirty minutes.

"When I started in this game in the 1970s, I was young enough that I still liked to go out after games," he said. "We could have a game start at 7:30 at night and if I wasn’t on the Plaza by 10:30, it must have been a really long game, or it must have gone extra innings or something.

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"Now, a normal game takes at least three hours. Back then, everyone enjoyed the pace of the game. Pitchers got the ball and threw it, hitters got in the box and they stayed there, and the strike zone was enforced.

"You never thought of a three-hour game unless it was extra innings."

Times have changed, Matthews said, because baseball executives believed higher-scoring games are what the public wanted.

"At some point, baseball figured that they needed more runs and more offense," he said. "The DH comes into play. The mound gets lowered. The strike zone shrinks. Ballparks get smaller. It’s all geared toward the offense and more runs. And that increases the time of games.

"Like I said, they are scared of 2-1 games, as if they are boring. And there’s something to say about the fact that maybe baseball thinks fans need three hours of entertainment for their money, like they would feel cheated if they only got two hours of entertainment."

Still, even with all the rule changes, Matthews also thinks that umpires could help move the game along more crisply all by themselves.

"I remember when Steve Palermo (presently a supervisor of umpires for MLB) was umpiring, he would always make sure the game was moving at a nice clip," Matthews said. "And he did it in a way that wasn’t offensive to anyone. He’d be out there, clapping his hands at pitchers and saying, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ He’d be instructing hitters to get back in the box. And he’d call a strike a strike."

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.